These are reviews from the participants of Escape the Ordinary, Wilton Library's 2015 adult summer reading program.
We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh is as good as her debut novel, The Language of Flowers. Letty Espinosa was a terrible mother to her young children but when her parents, who were raising them, move back to Mexico, she must step up and become responsible. It is a story about what it is like to be an immigrant in this country.
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. Interesting science fiction from China's most famous sci-fi writer Cixin Liu. The main plotline involves a somewhat inadvertent contact with a relatively close extraterrestrial race. But the perhaps more interesting subplot involves a progressively difficult virtual reality game which plays a surprising role as the two civilizations inch toward each other. First of a trilogy with the second book The Dark Forest just out in translation.
The Martian by Andy Weir is an engaging sci-fi adventure tale about one astronaut's struggle to survive on Mars after he's left there alone due to a serious mishap: Robinson Crusoe on Mars as it were. It starts off a little slow but the reader is soon rooting for the hero as he tries to survive long enough to get rescued...if that's even possible. It's easy to see why Hollywood has made it into a movie to be released in October 2015.
Sicily by John Julius Norwich is a charming introduction to the Mediterranean island that has been at times the center of Western civilization and an Imperial capital as well as the crossroads of barbarians and bandits. Weaving through the island's convoluted history, Norwich sprinkles his narrative with allusions to art, architecture, wine and food. Single volume histories of Sicily are a challenge but this one is quite enjoyable. However, interested readers should seek out additional sources especially ones that cover the post-WWII period which is somewhat inexplicably excluded from the book.
H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald gives technical information about hawking but its layout, 2 stories intertwined, gets tedious and doesn't really allow us to really know the characters.
Moloka'i by Alan Brennert is about Rachel Kalama, a girl whom at only eight years old contracted the then-taboo disease of leprosy. Having been quarantined to the island Moloka'i in the settlement of Kalaupapa, this novel chronicles her life as a victim of Hansen's disease and the life her and others of the same fate built from the rubble of their feared disease. Absolutely heart-wrenching and beautiful.
A Perilous Alliance by Fiona Buckley. In this historical mystery, set in Elizabethan England, Ursula Blanchard, an attractive widow is on another adventure. Lord Walsingham, Elizabeth I's spymaster wants Ursula to marry a noble of the French Court. He thinks this will protect Queen Elizabeth from childbirth in a rather convoluted reasoning and also give Ursula an opportunity to learn SECRETS. Ursula, who has gone through 3 husbands, is less than eager to fall in with this scheme. Between murders, horse chases and Ursula using her mad skills with picking locks, A Perilous Alliance ends up as a rather formulaic mystery. Not recommended.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevon is a good summer read. All the events in A.J. Fikry's life come a little too quickly and conveniently -- the tragic and the happy -- and yet it is a warm, tender-hearted, and engaging story. Thanks to this book, I have a list of additional authors and short stories to read. Literary allusions are fun.
Saint's Gate by Carla Neggers is the first in a series called Sharpe & Donovan. It is called "romantic suspense" for those who like Lisa Jackson or Lisa Gardner. Emma Sharpe is called to a Maine convent, where she used to live, to consult on a painting. She is now an FBI agent, so when the painting goes missing, and a nun is killed, she is there to investigate along with Colin Donovan, an undercover FBI agent. I enjoyed the novel as the author kept me guessing as to who the killer was. I want to continue reading the rest of the series.
A Stew or a Story: An Assortment of Short Works by M.K.F. Fisher by Joan Reardon; read this for book club; now I have to read some of MFK Fisher's writing.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett is a masterwork. I love her work in general, but this may be even better than Bel Canto at creating an engaging, fully realized world so different than where most of us reside. Patchett excels at creating an insular world, isolated from "normal" experiences, in this case in the Amazon jungle among an indigenous tribe.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is a Pulitzer Prize winning and very lengthy novel telling the story of Theodore Decker and his life after a major incident disrupts it. The novel is named for a singular painting which has a significant impact on his life over time. While the novel is clearly well done, and highly readable, the main characters aren't particularly likeable.
The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier is a spell-binding and original tale of time travel, not cut of the cliched cloth. It describes the amazing adventure of Richard Young as he is able to travel back to fourteenth century Cornwall through the effects of the drug created by his life-long scientist friend, Magnus Lane. An incredible read, and truly a masterpiece.
2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino is clever as it is charming. Madeleine is a rebellious nine-year-old who happens to be an aspiring jazz singer. Other characters include Sarina, getting over a divorce and searching out an old love. And Lorca, owner of The Cat's Pajamas jazz club. Told in one day (chapters in real time), this book really spoke to me. I would recommend it highly.
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf is set in the same fictional Colorado town as Plainsong. It is a spare yet eloquent, bittersweet yet inspiring story of a man and a woman who, in advanced age, come together to wrestle with the events of their lives and their hopes for the imminent future. You will want to read others by him if you haven't. I listened to the audiobook (only 3 discs) and enjoyed the narrator.
Perfect Match by Jodi Picoult is a heart wrenching read! Great as a more serious "beach read" but definitely not for the faint of heart. You can never put down a Picoult novel.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Beautifully written, tenderly told stories of a blind French girl and a German boy turned soldier and WW II. Their lives entwine briefly and leave the reader and their descendants with questions and memories.
The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob is a foray into Cultural differences and family relationships. I found this an enjoyable/different sort of read, the characters believable and outlandish. The Indian culture is the main star of the book. It deals with the 'human condition' and love in a family.
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister is a sweet summer fiction read. It is about the story of a group of people who come together at an evening cooking class.
At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen is a great summer read. It’s about the story of a couple who has been cast out of society-who go off to find the Loch Ness monster in Scotland. Deals with class , love, and loyalty. Written by Sara Gruen who wrote Water For Elephants. Recommended.
By Book or by Crook by Eva Gates is the first in a cozy mystery series. It's Lucy's first week as librarian at a lighthouse library in the Outer Banks. The Jane Austen exhibit of first-editions is drawing crowds, but also a thief. Then a library board member turns up dead. Can Lucy figure out what happened and save her job? This is a fun read for those who like Laura Childs or Jenn McKinlay. It would be a great beach read.
The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler is for those who liked Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I dark spell has been cast over Simon Watson's relatives throughout the centuries, and it is up to him to break it. The story weaves back and forth between present day Long Island and the late 1700s. If you like mermaids, circuses and librarians, this book is for you.
Lucky Us by Amy Bloom; who makes a family? Pretty much any combo you can invent, but it takes love, care, compassion and being there, together.
A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die by Edith Maxwell is the first in a series of Local Foods Mysteries. Cam, recently laid off from her job in the corporate world, decides to take over her elderly uncle's farm and turn it into an organic CSA. On her first CSA pick-up day one of her former workers is found murdered in the hoop house. This mystery is filled with interesting characters, plot twists, and a little romance. A great summer read!
The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin is a stunning debut historical novel that brings turn of the century, central Washington State to life through the eyes of an orchardist. Atmospheric and spare, yet lyrical, the novel offers both character studies and immersion in a landscape, profession and period that feel novel and under-explored.
Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde. I picked this novel up as a "beach read" mostly because I love the notion of paying it forward and try to do so in my personal life, albeit in smaller ways. It was enjoyable and quick, in the vein of Nicholas Sparks or some of the more sentimental writers out there. That said, the two lead characters (teacher and mom of Travis) had more depth and complexity than I would expect in this genre, making it more engaging. I've been asked how it compares to the movie, and I can't say, as I never saw it.
Room by Emma Donoghue is a fascinating, masterful creation of a world within a small confine (a garden shed where Jack and his mother are held hostage for many years) from the perspective of a child. So often a novel fails to live up to inflated expectations. This novel survived the "hype" - I found the author's creativity and mastery of her craft impressive while still enjoying a page turning interest in the book. One area I particularly enjoyed was Jack's vantage point to observe our culture. It was an interesting lens to see how differently circumstances (and a self-created "culture" of sorts) can shape and influence all kinds of interactions and "normalcy".
The Secret History by Donna Tartt was a thrilling read, full of convoluted twists and remarkably drawn characters, each with their own alluring secret traits unknown to the casual eye. It’s an epically written throwback to the classic novel. Superb.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is a classic novel, representative of the steep decline into insanity so prevalent among the lives of repressed and constricted young women of the time period. An insightful read.
Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg is loosely based on a woman who lived in early 20th century in New York City. It is told through her diary entries and through interviews of those who knew Mazie Dobbs. Through the narratives, we get to know this woman with "moxie." NYC becomes a character as well. Great for fans of historical fiction. I'd also recommend The Middlesteins by Jami.
Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy has two narratives that take place in Kentucky in 1936 and 1952. It is loosely based on the last public hanging in the U.S. The story slowly unfolds until we find out exactly what happened. Was the wrong man hanged? It has an element of evil, so it's good for fans of horror as well as Southern Gothic literature.
The Wicked Girls by Alex Hardwood is the story of serial murders in London suburb. It does not really concentrate on the murders themselves, but rather an intriguing story of those around the murders. A few interesting plot twists. A quick read; I would give it 3 out of 4 stars.
Those Girls by Chevy Stevens tells the story of 3 sisters who as teens, flee a terrible home situation only to get caught up in an even worse situation. Eighteen years later, one of the sisters and a niece disappear, causing the sisters to set out in search of them and confront their past head on. This is a suspenseful, quick read. You won't soon forget the Campbell sisters.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is a wonderful story filled with humor with dips into sorrow. The audio book is narrated by a talented actor who creates believable voices for all of the men and women in the novel.
The Goldfinch, written by Donna Tartt, is spellbinding in the twists and turns wrought throughout her incredibly drawn cast of characters. Theodore--Theo--Decker becomes ensconced in a miraculous journey across countries following his spur-of-the-moment and inadvertent art theft following the death of his mother in a terrorist bombing planted within a museum, This, his incredible life following the tragic event, story of a wandering boy and the motley crew he finds himself embroiled with is stunning in its clarity and sharpness of detail. Fantastic read.
The Hidden Girl by Louise Millar is about a couple from London, Will and Hannah, who buy and old house and move to a rural area with the hope of adopting a baby. The house needs lots of work and while Will is forced to stay in London during a snowstorm, strange things begin happening to Hannah who is left at the house. Eventually Hannah pieces together the story of a crime that was committed near the end of WWII and finds her life is now in danger.This book is very atmospheric and the suspense builds. I read this at night right before bed and it gave me the creeps (just like a good suspense story should!).
The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide selected to read because it was listed in the Bas Bleu catalog. My dad used to say Chibi, chibi all the time and now I know what he was saying in Japanese.
Deadlight Hall by Sarah Rayne is a quick reading eerie story. It takes a comfortably settled Oxford Don with a talent for occult investigation and a house with a disturbing history. Upon checking out the house as a favor to a friend, he finds a trail that goes back to Nazi Germany , child refugees and their tragic fate. For those who like their horror on the subtle side, this M.R. James-esque tale will delight.
Please Look After Mom by Kyung Sook Shin, written in the 3rd person and therefore a bit formal and distant, brings up issues of filial duties in South Korea but also asks us to look at our relationships with our own parents.
Disclaimer by Renee Knight is a debut thriller by a British scriptwriter -- Great beach read!
The Queen of the Tearling, this sequel offers more intrigue, harrowing battles, and the mystery of the past as it affects the quickly narrowing possibilities for the future of this mythical land of Tearling.The thrilling saga began in
The Truth According to Us takes place in the summer of 1938 in Macedonia, West Virginia. Layla Beck works for the Federal Writers' Project and is writing a history of the town. Secrets surface. It's a fun read if you like small-town fiction.
Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams takes place in the summer of 1966 in Cape Cod on a Kennedy-like compound. Tiny's husband Frank is running for political office, but if family secrets come out, their future may not become what they dreamed of. A great summer read.
One Among Us by Paige Dearth tells the (fictional) story of 11 year old Maggie Clarke's kidnapping from a mall and her subsequent experience in the sex trafficking trade. This was a difficult read in 2 respects - first, the story is very bleak and quite graphic, and second, the writing is not very good. It is, however, an eye opening story into the horrific conditions of children caught up in sex trafficking, a story that needs to be shared if there is any hope of ending it.